Alshon Jeffery didn’t necessarily mean it to be prophetic, but events have given his words a decidedly deeper significance:
"I’ll let my game take care of itself," Jeffery said last month as the Bears were concluding their pre-camp offseason. Jeffery is on course for precisely that spot of needing his game to take care of itself, and him. Because he and it didn’t get that done the first time.
Barring a surprise breakthrough before the 3 p.m. Friday deadline in stalled negotiations, Jeffery will play 2016 under the Bears franchise tag and for its guaranteed $14.6 million for one season. If no deal is concluded, the two sides are enjoined by rule from negotiating again until January.
The effect of no contract and the franchise tag is to make 2016 a prove-it season for Jeffery in advance of the 2017 offseason and possible free agency. But the 2015 season was in fact also a prove-it year for Jeffery, and he did not, at least not to the degree he needed to remove all doubt about his physical durability. Jeffery missed time in training camp and then three different times during the regular season with an assortment of different soft-tissue injuries.
Jeffery missed seven games entirely and portions of two others last season, not the sort of prove-it season he or the Bears wanted after he’d played all 16 games the previous two years.
Of course, “surprise” should not be ruled out in this situation: Both Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas reached deals calling for $70 million over five seasons with Dallas and Denver, respectively, and reached those deals last July 15 amid after scattered reports that no deals were happening.
But the Bears were not expected to proffer a deal with more than $40 million guaranteed – which Bryant and Thomas received – for a player who had lined up on less than 47 percent of their 2015 snaps. Accordingly, a no-deal for Jeffery has been expected for some time.
When general manager Ryan Pace was asked last February during the NFL Scouting Combine about the state of business between the Bears and Jeffery, Pace’s tone was positive, that the team was “aggressively” negotiating toward a long-term contract for the wide receiver who already ranks 10th in franchise history in receptions (252) and seventh in receiving yards (3,728) in less than four full seasons in a Bears uniform.
A week later, however, the Bears were compelled to place their franchise tag on Jeffery to block his entry into unrestricted free agency.
Pace’s optimism continued to decline by the time the draft arrived in late April, by noting that “not a lot of new information” was coming out of talks. Jeffery’s absence from voluntary team activities throughout the offseason served only to underscore the gap.